1975. Jefferson Starship. Airplane Mansion. 2400 Fulton Street, San Francisco.
This photo was one taken for the album’s back cover (we ended up using a slightly different shot where I’m sitting in front nursing a bottle of Dos Equis). It was taken by the great photographer Jim Marshall who personally gave me permission to use this shot for my “Learning Piano” book…he tragically passed away soon after. I loved playing with this version of the band…my favorite period.
“Sandalphon”. Pete Sears wrote this instrumental.
“Play on Love”. Pete Sears wrote the music and Grace Slick the lyrics. It was also released as a single.
“Miracles”. Sung and written by Marty Balin. The song was a hit single on the Billboard Charts.
Pete Sears played bass guitar and Fender Rhodes piano on “Miracles”.
“Sweeter Than Honey”. Pete Sears was one of the co-writers on this song.
1975. “Red Octopus” Jefferson Starship
Produced by Larry Cox.
Recorded at Wally Heider Studios, Hyde Street, San Francisco. Studio A.
“In my opinion this was the best album we ever made. Papa John was still with us and the band was in full swing…unpretentious, full of sincere and original writing. Live, we played long sets with plenty of improvisation (I would even do a 10 minute Rock bass solo at every show with nobody else on stage), and Grace was in full voice. Marty had a hit on the Billboard Charts with his song “Miracles”. The album went to number one for several weeks. We also released a song Grace and I wrote called “Play On Love”. I wrote an instrumental for the album called “Sandalphon”, and got part writing credit for “Sweeter Than Honey”.
We played large auditoriums to packed houses in those days…Paul was fun and inspiring to play with (if a little pig headed at times) and my close friend David Freiberg sang and shared bass and keyboard duties with me. John Barbata and Craig Chaquico were (are) wonderful musicians.
I still think my favorite place to play in those days was “Winterland”…Bill Graham was one of Rock’s most valuable assets and an amazing promoter. Underneath his sometimes hard exterior he cared greatly about human rights…probably due in part to having experienced Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust first hand. He once agreed to produce a benefit with me for Guatemalan relief from the US backed civil war.
Bill Thompson managed Jefferson Starship in those days (he had also managed Jefferson Airplane). We recorded Red Octopus at “Wally Heider Studios” in San Francisco with producer Larry Cox (ex Buddy Holly drummer) who continued to work with Jefferson Starship all through the 1970’s…the best and most productive period the band ever had. That line-up stuck from “Dragonfly” in 1974, the first official Jefferson Starship album, through to 1978. We sold more records during the 1970’s than the more commercial radio airplay hits of the 1980’s which were produced under the guidance of different record producers. However, Ron Nevison was a great rock producer and worked well with the band (except for a few silly personality conflicts) in the early 1980’s. We were still a hard hitting rock band that recorded basic tracks in the studio…like our “Freedom at Point Zero” album…or “Winds of Change” (different producer) when the music was the drive and little thought was given to exclusively writing commercial songs and lyrics. Certain forces in the band, along with record company A&R men would soon begin pushing for only commercial songs and lyrics written by outside writer’s culminating in cleverly crafted radio hits like “Sara”, “No Way Out” and “We Built This City”…superbly sung by Mickey.
I remember a particularly volatile band meeting I had in the kitchen of the Record Plant in Sausalito, California as we were making my last album with the band (I had been with them for 13 years). My wife, Jeannette, and I were heavily involved with helping refugees of war from Central America living in the San Francisco Bay area, and were also trying to spread awareness of the USA’s involvement in the Civil Wars of El Salvador and Guatemala.
We had written a song together (that Grace liked a lot, Jeannette had been a writer for many years) called “One More Innocent” (“every time you close your eyes, one more innocent dies”) about the Mayan Indian genocide in Guatemala.
However, our producer Peter Wolf (not the singer) and several band members liked the music, but refused to play anything which might be seen as controversial and only wanted lyrics about young love and heartbreak on the album. They said they only wanted to use songs that could be potential AM Radio hit singles…nothing wrong with that if that’s what you do; but it wasn’t what Jefferson Starship/Airplane fans were used to. Our lead vocalist Mickey (the record company had been gradually pushing our greatest asset Grace to the background and trying to make us sound more like “Journey”…a contrived and impossible task) actually suggested we change the lyric to “one more innocent lie”, instead of “one more innocent dies”…which changed the whole point of the song.
For better or worse, Jefferson Starship had always been about being able to voice your own ideology and outlook on life; a sincerity of approach that seemed to resonate with our audience in large numbers. I decided to pull “One More Innocent” off the album rather than change the entire meaning of Jeannette’s wonderful lyrics to a half rate love song.
I later included the song on a solo album called “Watchfire”, recorded after I left the band with friends like Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia, Mimi Farina, Baba Olatunji and his African drummers, Holly Near, David Grisman.
We produced a non-profit music video called “Guatemala” from the same album about human rights violations; it was funded by Jerry Garcia and we sent hundreds of free copies to human rights organizations like Amnesty International.
Anyway, “Starship” gradually began to alienate its audience. “Knee Deep In The Hoopla” was the first album to really adopt the commercial only philosophy full time…although it had been looming for some time. I left right before the band began recording their next album “No Protection”. By that time Paul Kantner had left the band, David Freiberg also, and I was replaced by a friend of Mickey’s, Bret Bloomfeld (a wonderful bass player who was very good at slap bass…I was still old school I suppose:-).
Their audience (and personnel) gradually dropped off until the last “Starship” record (couldn’t legally use the name “Airplane” by then) consisted of just vocalist Mickey Thomas and the Austrian record producer Peter Wolf (again, not the singer).
I have never heard the record but I’m told the band bore zero resemblance to the 1970’s version of Jefferson Starship…which will always be the golden years in my opinion. Hey, Jeannette and I bought our first house and all our antique furniture off the one album “Red Octopus”…and I wrote many songs with Grace including “Better Lying Down”, Hyperdrive”, “Play On Love” etc.
Paul Kantner later started up a new Jefferson Starship in the old tradition that has lasted for many years with wonderful musicians and a series of very good vocalists singing Grace’s songs…the latest being Cathy Richards. David Freiberg also sings and plays acoustic guitar with them. I still occasionally sit in with them for fun, as does my “Moonalice” band-mate Barry Sless.”